This week the Prime Minister finally demonstrated some compassion and respect for the millions of EU citizens from other member states living in the UK.
Of course, for many this is far too little far too late. Sadly, we’ve all seen and heard reports from people who no longer feel welcome here, who are disillusioned with the Government and feel this is not the welcoming, tolerant and progressive country they thought it was.
Most decent people wouldn’t have dreamed of forcing those who have made Britain their home for years, and done so much to enrich it culturally and economically, to jump through hoops to show that they deserve to stay and then pay £65 for the privilege. We had committed to reimbursing this for our staff and I know many across the local public sector had done the same.
But, then, decency has been in short supply throughout a Brexit process driven by coteries of stultifyingly incompetent, disingenuous and shambolic politicians, many of them ministers and former ministers, often more concerned with cementing their populist credentials, responding to party splits or jockeying for position with an eye on the top job.
While government has stumbled from false step to false step, with little regard to the growing concern and anxiety of EU citizens, councils have, as usual, been getting on with the important stuff.
About 15% of Hackney’s population - 41,500 people - are from other EU countries. We had the third highest Remain vote in the UK, at 78.5%. We’re a borough that celebrates its long history of being diverse and inclusive; we remain proudly outward looking and internationalist.
Since the referendum in 2016, we’ve taken a wide range steps to support and inform our residents, businesses and staff about the potential impacts of Brexit and their rights. One advice session, held in collaboration with the EU Commission, was streamed on Facebook and has had 38,000 views, a clear illustration that people are desperate for information and guidance.
We’re carrying out work, locally and on a pan-London level, to mitigate disruption to services and preparing for changes to a range of UK law and regulatory regimes. We’ve written to Ministers to express our concerns and call for greater support for EU citizens and, this week, have tabled a motion opposing a ‘no deal Brexit’ which would damage the borough’s economy and public services - already stretched by years of government cuts - and the wellbeing and prosperity of our residents, both EU and UK citizens.
I know many other councils have been doing similar things, and it’s inspiring to see local government stepping up, as it always does.
We’ve also taken every opportunity to tell our EU citizens how much we value them. In 2017 we launched the #HackneyLovesYou campaign and encouraged people to share and celebrate the contributions EU nationals make to Hackney life. Needless to say there’s been no shortage of inspiring stories, and we've been told time and time again that it genuinely means a lot to them.
Though I’m profoundly sad that we are leaving the EU at all, this opportunity is one positive we can take from Brexit. It’s a real chance to remind people that we’re more than the sum of our services, more than just managers, bureaucrats and administrators, that we stand for values, care about our residents and will go into bat for them while national politicians use them as statistics and bargaining chips. Whatever happens on March 29, there will hopefully be a lasting and heightened awareness of this often understated role of local government.
Philip Glanville is Mayor of Hackney LBC